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Interface versus Data

Sean Boisen recently announced the release of a semantic knowledge base called New Testament Names. It basically consists of a multilevel categorization of almost every name that appears in the NT, including a whole grid of relationships between them.

Since this is not really an application geared to end-users, but rather a structured data (best viewed with editors like Protege), I did not comment on it initially. However, yesterday he blogged about a prototype graphical interface, under the name of NT Names Explorer, that he is hoping to develop for it. This in itself is good news, but there's a comment that caught particularly my attention, since it is something I have been giving some thought to lately:

Of course, data isn't all that exciting (unless you're a serious geek). I could make a good argument that, in the long run, the data is actually much more valuable than individual applications (and i hope to get around to writing that argument down one of these days), and it's arguably much harder to come by as well. But most people can still appreciate a good application more than the data behind it, though of course the data is what makes the application possible. The best evidence of this is the NT Hyper-concordance. This continues to be the one thing on SemanticBible that brings most people around (according to the server logs), even though the data behind it is a pretty minor transformation of an OSIS-formatted New Testament text.

I think he's got a point here. When most people think about a Bible program, they do it in terms of the interface, not the data. I'm afraid we won't be able to change that. In a day and age where even Linux has taken on a friendly face (e.g., KDE, Gnome), we all (and that includes me!) expect to work with an appealing and intuitive graphical user interface. This is not bad in and of itself -- after all, we cannot expect every user to be a computer geek! -- but we must never lose sight of the fact that the "bells and whistles" of a user interface are not necessarily a mark of the quality of the data contained in the program. I am all for nice and advanced interfaces, but data must come first. Without good data, everything else will be a waste of time. However, having said that, I think it is fair to expect that quality data will be matched by an equally well-designed and visually pleasant graphical user interface. Software developers face the challenge of having to strike the balance between the two. Do give us some attractive, easy to use (yet powerful) interfaces, but don't forget to pay special attention to the content you offer. Will you do that for us? Please? Meanwhile, Sean, I will be looking forward to that article on the value of the data...and to the finished NT Names Explorer.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on April 25, 2004 9:19 AM.

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